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Tulane challenges but can't overtake Mississippi State

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) -- Tulane was poised for a feel-good ending
to its hurricane-delayed season opener until Mississippi State and
Jerious Norwood played the role of spoiler.

Norwood's 17-yard touchdown run one play after Tulane fumbled a
punt deep in its own territory lifted the Bulldogs to a 21-14 win
over the Green Wave on Saturday night in a game full of reminders
of Katrina.

The Division I-A team most affected by the storm, Tulane played
its first game nearly 350 miles from home after the storm ravaged
New Orleans, flooded the school's campus, damaged the Superdome
and, coach Chris Scelfo said, put football in perspective.

"I don't think that there's another team in America that is
more united than ours right now," Scelfo said. "There's not one
kid in that locker room that doesn't lack for character, and I'm
extremely proud of the way they played."

Despite all the heartache, the Green Wave were poised to give
storm-weary residents of the Gulf Coast a reason to rejoice,
erasing a two-touchdown deficit and tying it at 14-14 in the fourth
quarter. But a muffed punt set up the decisive touchdown for
Mississippi State.

Israel Route fumbled, Lance Long recovered at the Tulane 17 and
Norwood scored shortly afterward to give the Bulldogs the lead for
good with about 7 minutes to play.

The Green Wave couldn't get closer than the Mississippi State
39, and Lester Ricard's desperation heave on the game's final play
was tipped by defender Derek Pegues and fell out of Brian King's
reach in the end zone.

"I'm just glad it's over," Mississippi State coach Sylvester
Croom said. "I was frustrated, but I'm not going to take it out on
the guys because they found a way to win. It was not easy with all
the situations surrounding this game."

Tulane outgained the Bulldogs 293-225 and the Green Wave were
thinking victory after Sean Lucas returned a fourth-quarter fumble
to the Bulldogs' 28.

Javon Jackson's 18-yard touchdown run six plays later tied it
with about nine minutes remaining. It came two possessions after
Ricard's 23-yard touchdown to Damarcus Davis.

"This team is filled with a lot of character. You want each one
to become your brother in-law," Ricard said. "But this team won't
ever give up. As you saw tonight, we will fight back and never just
give up a win."

Omarr Conner overcame a slow start and finished 13-of-26 for 108
yards with touchdown passes of 3 yards to Norwood and 18 yards to
Eric Butler in Mississippi State's first win away from Starkville
in nearly three years.

Norwood finished with 99 yards on 21 carries for the Bulldogs
(2-1).

"We knew Tulane would come out with a lot of emotion," Conner
said. "You could tell they ain't played a game, but you can tell
they're headed in the right direction."

Ricard was 26-of-47 for 179 yards for the Green Wave (0-1), and
his favorite target, Preston Brown, had nine catches for 117 yards.

But the stats hardly mattered to Tulane. That the Green Wave
played at all is remarkable, because for the past three weeks, they
had much bigger concerns than football.

With their campus flooded and their home stadium damaged, the
Green Wave fled a total 850 miles and called four cities home.
Tulane left first for Jackson, Miss., and then Dallas before
settling in at Louisiana Tech's campus in Ruston, hundreds of miles
from the Big Easy.

Scelfo said leading up to the game that playing again was
important for the morale of both the Green Wave and the residents
of the city they left.

"I'm very proud of this team for everything they've gone
through," Scelfo said.

Tulane, the last Division I-A team to play a game, started out
understandably rusty, but Mississippi State matched the Green Wave
mistake for mistake during a scoreless, penalty-filled first half.

The teams combined for 13 punts and 11 penalties in the opening
30 minutes, and the Bulldogs had 39 total yards and converted one
first down at halftime.